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To most Malaysians race politics is gradually paling in Malaysian politics except for some UMNO crusaders who are still into this muddle.
As reported, Mukhriz Mahathir, the MP for Jerlun, was reported to have cynically questioned, “Apa maksud 'Sebangsa' dalam tema Pakatan? (What’s the meaning of ‘Sebangsa’ in Pakatan’s Merdeka theme?)”.
Is Mukhriz trying to shuffle the race cards here to please the Malays, observing that Kedah is a Malay-majority state? Is he not jubilant that Pakatan’s usage of the term “Sebangsa” in her theme is inclusive of all the races in the country?
Mukhriz has, with intent, sought Pakatan to spell out what “Sebangsa” means. Isn’t he being bigoted in his rhetoric here? Can’t he accept that all Malaysians be considered as people of one nationality (“Sebangsa”) or is he cherry-picking the term “Sebangsa” to only refer to a single race?
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Is he on a mission to divide and rule the people just like what his father, Mahathir Mohamad, is still doing?
It’s so sad that fledgling Mukhriz is now becoming more blinkered in a multi-racial Malaysia. Like father like son, he is just emulating his father’s line of attack in politics. This is not surprising as racial politics has always been UMNO’s political attribute.
Pakatan Rakyat no doubt has come up with a much popular theme for the 55th Merdeka celebration: “Sebangsa, Senegara, Sejiwa” (“One Nationality, One Country, One Soul”).
This theme drew over 95 percent support from readers in a recent few-day opinion poll by a local daily as opposed to BN’s (Barisan Nasional) theme Janji Ditepati (Promises Fulfilled) which only garnered less than 2 percent support.
Possibly, fearing this response by the masses Mukhriz has chosen to mock the term “Sebangsa” in this context. Little does he realise that this term is not new in Malaysian politics. It is not really a term newly coined by Pakatan Rakyat.
Mahathir – the 4th prime minister of the country – used the term “Bangsa Malaysia” during his tenure as PM. This was well described by Mahathir in his Memoirs – Doctor in the House (2011) – to portray his desire to make Malaysians united under the Bangsa Malaysia banner.
Mukhriz should be aware that his father used the term “Bangsa Malaysia” to promote himself as the leader of all Malaysians for 22 years as prime minister. And at that time no UMNO member questioned the use of “Sebangsa” or “Bangsa Malaysia”.
Why should Mukhriz now question this apposite term used by Pakatan to unite all Malaysians? Is he insinuating that “Sebangsa” is an exclusive term for a single race? Is he into the divide-and-rule game of politics seeing that over 80 percent of Kedah is populated by ethnic Malays? Is Mukhriz trying to please the Malays more than the non-Malays for him to get the support to become the next MB of Kedah?
Lost in the 1969 general election
In the 2008 Malaysian general election, Mukhriz won the Jerlun parliamentary seat. Before this, he offered himself to contest in Langkawi parliament seat but was rejected by 85 out of 91 UMNO branches in Langkawi.
However, the Jerlun UMNO division welcomed Mukhriz to contest in their parliament seat and promised to give him full support in the election.
For Mukhriz to now play racial politics and harp on the term “Sebangsa” is damaging him politically. Perhaps, Mukhriz has not been reminded by his father that it was in Malay-majority Kedah that the latter lost in the 1969 general election.
The Alliance Party of 1969 lost grounds in that year’s general election in an increased support for the Opposition among members of all ethnic groups, including Malays.
Contrary to the popular belief that only Chinese supported the Opposition in the 1969 election, the Malays played their part too. Mahathir lost his Kota Setar Selatan seat – a Malay-majority seat – when the Chinese and the Malays rejected him in droves for his racist approach to politics.
Many UMNO big cheese at the time lost their seats as there was a significant Malay swing against the Alliance. History can repeat itself. Mukhriz brand of politics will backfire if he goes brandishing the racial card as a weapon to win votes in Kedah.
A 45 percent Malay votes and a 55 percent Chinese and Indian votes for Pakatan Rakyat are enough to see Pakatan Rakyat back in power in Kedah. Mukhriz’s hope of becoming the next MB (menteri besar) of Kedah will then be torn to shreds.
Tussle within UMNO
But for ambitious Mukhriz it is not going to be plain sailing. In Kedah there is a great power struggle within UMNO. The present UMNO chief of Kedah will not give an easy passage to Mukhriz to become the MB in a scenario when BN wins the state.
In Kedah UMNO, Mukhriz and his father are facing a challenge from other “time-honoured” division leaders who do not see why they should have to give way – rationalising that through the years both father and son had spent most of their attention on federal matters rather than on the state.
Kedah remains as one of the poorest states in the country despite Mahathir helming the country for 22 years as prime minister.
Mukhriz has no choice but to face many contenders within the party for the Kedah MB’s post. One such leader is the Kedah UMNO chief Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah.
The state government is now held by the Pakatan Rakyat. The current MB is PAS' Azizan Abdul Razak. It was reported that Ahmad Bashah minced no words when he reminded Kedah UMNO to focus on wresting back the state government rather than singing praises for Mukhriz, who is currently the Kedah UMNO deputy chief.
PAS or Pakatan is still a formidable force in Kedah. In the recent PAS rally held in Kedah, more than 100,000 members gathered to show their support for the party. This has further alarmed Kedah UMNO.
Mukhriz drew criticism
In 2006, Mukhriz won the election of UMNO's Kubang Pasu division, coming in fifth. Mukhriz defended his father, who had lost in the same election he took part, by saying that there was a plan to topple him.
Mukriz at 48 is still a novice at politics. He is not that popular a leader even within the UMNO circle. Mukhriz was famous for his outspokenness when there was a serious rift between the then Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and his father.
He defended his father much to the chagrin of ambitious Khairy Jamaluddin who is the son-in-law of Abdullah. Khairy on his part has the ambition to become the prime minister before he turns 40 but with Abdullah leaving the scene early he now has to work harder to achieve this goal.
Mukhriz drew criticism from sections of UMNO after he commented on Prime Minister Abdullah's speech that he was a "little bit" disenchanted and that “it offered nothing new”.
The scrimmage between Mahathir and Abdullah did not end at the highest level within UMNO. It has now trickled down to the party’s young leaders related to them – Mukhriz and Khairy. Khairy is, without doubt, not in the good book of Mahathir. Thus one way to sideline Khairy Mahathir is to drive Mukhriz up the UMNO ladder.
Najib Abdul Razak, the prime minister, has no choice for fear that Mahathir would pin his ears back. But again, even without Mahathir’s shove, Najib is not in favour of aspiring Khairy who has a high ambition in UMNO.
In 2009, Mukhriz contested as a candidate for the new UMNO Youth Chief after the wing's predecessor, Hishamuddin Hussein let go his position. He was rivalled by ambitious Khairy and Khir Toyo.
Nominations for the posts coincided with division meetings which took place between October and November 2008. Mukhriz was initially seen as leading in nominations compared to Khairy but eventually lost in the final vote count.
However, a controversy flashed when Khairy was allowed to contest for the post even though he was found guilty for being involved with money politics by the UMNO Disciplinary Board – which he vehemently denied.
Mukhriz was not pleased with the double-standard levied on the contestants, as others who were found guilty for the same wrongdoing, such as Mohd Ali Rustam who was supposed to contest for the UMNO vice president post, were not allowed to contest for their respective posts.
Mukhriz has failed to shine
Despite losing to Khairy in the contest, Mukhriz was appointed as the Deputy Minister of International Trade and Industry by Najib. According to political observers Mukhriz was appointed to the cabinet by Najib to placate Mahathir, as the latter still plays a dominant role in deciding who should lead UMNO.
Jilted Khairy is now like a wounded lion. He must be the only UMNO youth leader in the history of UMNO that has not been given any ministerial post. The storm has thus not calmed down within UMNO aspirants and those against Mukhriz will not give up until they are able to axe him from any senior posts within UMNO.
To many political observers, between Mukhriz and Khairy the latter is seen to be more charismatic though both seem to be unpopular in Malaysian politics. Mukhriz is seen too weak and is depending on his unpopular father’s image to make it in politics. Although not so young at age 48, Mukhriz has failed to convince in terms of aptitude, leadership or political savvy.
He is certainly not ready for the top job in Kedah if BN were to seize the state from Pakatan, with critics even predicting that he will be knocked out early in the political bouts by many other UMNO aspirants who are more Machiavellian than him.
If truth be told, Mukhriz has not made any enduring impression on the nation and if Mahathir had not pressured Najib to appoint him the deputy trade minister, few Malaysians would have noticed his efforts at all.